Chris Tower, RN
Then: Buddhist Monk
Now: Psych-Social Nursing, Drug and Alcohol Treatment Center
What advice do you give a 50-year-old man who has spent the last 26 years as a Buddhist monk and feels it’s time to make a career change?
The switch from monk to nurse came naturally to Chris Tower. He had spent every waking moment immersed in monastic life: He studied Buddhism, practiced meditation and learned how to bring both into his daily life at the monastery, whether through cooking, gardening or teaching those who came to retreats. Finally, what made a lasting impression were his last few years in Shasta Abbey in Northern California, when he cared for his teacher, who was ill with diabetes.
“The monastery provided a time of great personal and spiritual growth,” says Tower, who relished “participating in such a wonderful community.” Nevertheless, he slowly but seriously began to question his wholehearted commitment. “I wanted to go back to living in the world, to take what I could from monastic life and see how it could be used outside.”
Tower left the monastery but remained a monk, helping to start a temple on the East Coast and working in Oregon, too. When he learned his father’s stomach cancer had returned, he went home to care for him. “I was able to draw on my experiences with my teacher, and my dad was able to pass away at home, which is what he wanted.” Tower began thinking about the possibility of doing hospice work, getting a clinical social worker’s license or pursuing a career as a nurse. “I was interested in science, which nursing required, and I liked the fact that there were so many more opportunities for people in their mid-fifties in nursing than in clinical social work. I didn’t want to spend time and money on education and then be unable to find a job.”
Tower did his prerequisites and was welcomed with open arms by the nursing school at the College of New Rochelle in New York, despite his poor academic record at Williams College so many years ago. “Youthful exuberance,” Tower laughs.
Graduating in August 2008 at the age of 57, Tower began work on a surgical stepdown floor at Stony Brook University Medical Center in Long Island, N.Y. “I was happy to get all the medical experience that job required, but I realized that I was more interested in the slower-paced, psycho-social aspects of nursing than the high-intensity technical side.”
That’s when Tower found the Seafield Center for drug and alcohol abuse treatment in West Hampton, N.Y. He also soon found his wife, a fifth-grade teacher who was introduced to him by mutual friends. “It all turned out perfectly,” says Tower. “What I like most about my job is that I’m encouraged to spend extra time talking to patients. Now I’m going to get a nurse practitioner’s license so I can do that all day, and that really excites me.”
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